Hello! My name is Amira Mandwee, and I’m a first-year MIA student at SIPA. I’m concentrating in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy and specializing in International Conflict Resolution and the Middle East Region. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in 2020 from the University of Michigan in Public Policy with a focus area in Peace Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and minors in Middle East Studies and French. Before coming to SIPA, I participated in the Teaching Assistant Program in France, where I spent a year teaching English to high school students in Rennes, Brittany. I was also a fellow in the U.S. Foreign Service Internship Program, where I spent two summers working in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Iraq Affairs and the American Institute in Taiwan, respectively.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
I wanted to attend Columbia SIPA because of its prestigious academic rigor and reputation in shaping global policymakers and changemakers. I knew that attending SIPA would mean gaining a world-class education while immersing myself in an international experience alongside peers from all over the world. I also wanted to take advantage of the school’s location in New York City. SIPA is in close proximity to such amazing opportunities, and I wanted to use this time as an opportunity to explore my passions in human rights and public service through different sectors while living somewhere new and vibrant.

SIPA features lots of events for students to attend. Are there any interesting presentations that you have attended that you could comment upon?
I recently attended a Public-Private Cooperation Experts Panel where two professors discussed their experiences with Public-Private Partnerships and shared the challenges and successes they’ve encountered in their endeavors. Part of what drew me to SIPA was the opportunity to explore the different means through which I could make positive policy change, and Public-Private Partnerships is something that has caught my attention ever since learning about it in class. This panel was a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of PPP’s real-life applications, its benefits, and the challenges it can also bring.

What has been your experience with the Career Advancement Center?
The Career Advancement Center (CAC) has been a wonderful resource for me during my SIPA experience. I came into SIPA knowing that I wanted to work on human rights, conflict resolution, and international issues in the Middle East. However, I’m still exploring the specific career through which I would like to engage with these issues. CAC understands that many of its students are experiencing these same challenges and provides a wonderful array of resources. When I applied for internships, CAC looked at my resume and cover letter and offered personal feedback to help me submit the best application possible. I’ve also met one-on-one with advisors who helped me narrow down my interests and create an action plan for my time at SIPA.

Can you comment specifically on some exciting things about your time at SIPA?
Last fall, I joined a team to participate in the SIPA Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant Program. The program was a venture competition in which participants designed projects using technology and data to advance a public policy objective. My team worked to create an Artificial Intelligence-based algorithm that would help low-income and other minority students in attending higher-education institutions after high school. We learned in bootcamps and from advisors about developing our idea into a tangible product. During this exciting experience, I learned all about prototyping, financial planning for new enterprises, and building business models. While we did not advance to the final round, I came out of this experience having learned so much about building a product from a simple idea and the ways in which multiple sectors can collaborate to generate positive change. I also had the chance to meet and collaborate with amazing students from different sectors and backgrounds.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
One of my favorite parts about SIPA is its diverse student body! I’ve made friends from all over the country and world (about 60% of my graduating class are international students!). This is a valuable opportunity to learn about other countries and cultures within my classroom and among my peers and friends. I love hearing different languages in the classrooms and hallways. I’m surrounded by people with various experiences and backgrounds from whom I can learn about current events, different histories, and gain a greater understanding of the world around me. I love immersing myself in a community of people who are just as passionate as me about human rights, international affairs, and making a positive change. This is so important in moments when these affairs seem bleak or when I’m in need of a burst of solidarity or hope.